STRENGTHS - A quick and explosive athlete, Spence has consistently shown good quickness off the ball to get gap penetration and disrupt/make plays behind the LOS. On outside runs he consistently gets inside backside "reach" block, keeps blocker on shoulder and has the speed to track down the ball carrier in pursuit. Spence does an excellent job of taking on run blockers with leverage and good hand use, which enables him to anchor, shed and make the tackle on inside runs. Even when he does not shed the block in time to make the play, he consistently clogs the middle to shut down inside runs. Highly competitive, Spence is constantly around the ball because he does not quit fighting to get to the ball carrier until the whistle. After his redshirt freshman season, Spence has started every game (38) to finish his college career, so toughness is not going to be an issue in the NFL.
WEAKNESSES - Obviously, shorter than ideal Spence does not fit the model that every NFL team looks for. Although he was consistently productive versus OL run blocks at Illinois, his lack of height will likely hinder him at times against NFL OL - As they will be able to engulf him. While he flashes the burst off the ball to get backfield penetration to pressure the QB, he lacks a variety of pass rush moves to consistently pressure the QB. If his initial burst does not get him through the LOS, then too often he is a non-factor rushing the passer.
SUMMARY - Spence is a player who jumped off the film when I was grading Whitney Mercilus in 2011 and continued to impress me when I thoroughly evaluated him in 2012. While he does not look the part, he looks more like a short, stocky DT, he is very athletic and has consistently shown the ability to get backfield penetration to disrupt plays behind the LOS. On outside runs and runs away, Spence consistently chases down the ball carrier in pursuit. He has excellent playing speed for a 300+ pound DT and an explosive closing burst to finish plays. Spence is not a polished pass rusher and will need to improve in this area to become a top level starter in the NFL. Overall, Spence has all the tools to be a good starting defensive end in a 34 scheme or a defensive tackle in a 43 defense. I do not expect Spence to be drafted as highly as I have him rated, but in time he will prove my evaluation correct.